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Setting the Basis for an Extended Contest: Critiques?

Started by epweissengruber, October 12, 2003, 08:19:33 AM

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I was hoping to turn this discussion of Extended contests into a wider discussion of the Narrative game mechanics at work in HQ.

I don't have my rulebooks with me this vacation, so I have to ask a question about who sets up the basis for the extended contest.  And I am curious about the implications for both HeroQuest and Narrative design in general.

Here are the 2 recent posts that stimulated my questions.
    Quote from: GB SteveWith contest you have to remember that you aren't limited to using the same skill each round. When the contest is initiated the starting APs of each side are calculated from the skills used in the first exchange.

    QuoteAnother neat effect from this is that whoever establishes on what basis the first round abilities are called in, gets a pretty big say in starting AP scores

    And here are the questions

    1) What are the guidelines for deciding the basis for an Extended contest?
        i) worked out in loose improvised dialogue?
        ii) the result of a specific short contest
            (Sneaky Orlanthi vs. Troll Trap)
        iii) some other metagame mechanic
            (Narrator: "My guy is willing to start with an AP bid of 20." Player: "Nah, my boy is kicking in 35 AP.  I win!  So we're gonna have a contest using my Demolish Lunar Sophistries ability -- which is rated at 15W2 -- suckah!")

    2) What are the implications of these guidelines for HeroQuest play in particular or Narrativist play in particular?

    I have my own thoughts about this but I really need Forgite input to sort out this stuff

         i)  Will work in a group with a good Social Contract.  
              PRO: Conducive to a smooth flowing improvised narrative
              CON: Players may feel deprotagonized by a GM who always defines the bases of the contests, or Players who do not have well-developed Framing skills will have play in situations defined by the fastest mouth.
         ii)  Is not too far from basic simulationism.  The world exists indpendently of the Players; the Players intereact with this world based on their limited information; the GM takes on the role of the agents or powers that are hidden from the Players; GM resolves one conflict behind the players' backs (rolling for the Troll ambushers, and in all likelyhood fudging the roll to get the result s/he wants) before setting up a Scene where the Players have a great deal of input.
        iii) Might work in terms of metagame resources, but seems to be more Gamist than Narrativist (players addressing Premises and Themes, etc.)

    My Thoughts
    1) The Resolution Mechanics for particular situations are quite nice in HQ: however, there seem to be no rules guiding the definition of the situation to be resolved.  Such rules are of some importance in a Narrative game.  They can assure or prohibit a fair distribution of Framing power among all players.
    2) In one sense, defining the basis of an Extended Contest is a kind of mini Premise setting.  "This next scene is going to ask if Barbarian wildness can overcome civilized restraint" or "When facing a highly skilled enemy, is it best to rely on your training or the inspiration of the moment?" or "Can book learning really help you survive in a hostile wilderness?"  The proceedure for defining the Extended contest is important for more than specifying what abilities will be used to determine the resolution of the scene -- it is a proceedure for setting Narrative priorities.  As such, it could have been adressed in the HQ text and those of us playing HQ or using it as a reference for game design should make explicit the Narrativist implications of HQ's approach to scene framing.  Who should have the power to make such mini premise setting decisions?
    3) Re: 2).  The way that I am describing mini premise setting lets the dice determine the answer, not the players (including GM as well as Players).  Would resolving the scene in this manner be a Narrative instance of play? -- its starting to sound like a Gamist instance.

    Ron Edwards


    I split the above post from HQ Extended Contests.

    Carry on!



    In response to Erik's first question, I generally award the privilege of deciding in what manner a contest will begin to its initiator. If a hero starts the fight, debate, seduction, etc., he or she gets to declare the general type of ability initially used (combat, social, magical, etc.). If the opponent responds with an inappropriate ability, he or she takes an improvisation penalty.


    GBSteve is right to highlight this matter, it makes the extended contest a real execise in flexible and creative problem solving.  The way I see it, the nature of the extended conflict is determined by the initiator of the conflict.  This allows the cunning to force their opponent to fight the battle they wish to fight.  It also allows great opportunities for really creative improvisation during the contest itself.
    Impeach the bomber boys:

    "He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
    - Leonardo da Vinci


    I've never realy had this problem. At the beginning of a contest the two sides declare what they are attempoting to do. The side with the highest target number goes first. Therefore their stated intent frames the contest.

    Note though that in fact each side can have very different goals even in the same contest, and can both work towards them. That's because each round, each side gets to state an ability they're using, the tactic they're using and how many APs they bet.

    You can be shooting arrows at me on your action phase (Your Archery Vs my Agile), while I desperately try to persuade you that it wasn't me that seduced your sister during my action phase (My Persuade Vs your Proud). If you beat me to negative APs then you hit me, if I take you down to negative APs then I've persuaded you.

    How many other games let you do that kind of thing? Yet we see scenes like this in films and read them in novels all the time.

    Simon Hibbs
    Simon Hibbs

    GB Steve

    Quote from: simon_hibbsHow many other games let you do that kind of thing? Yet we see scenes like this in films and read them in novels all the time.
    Most games have this kind of thing but they tend to have HPs (or equivalent) to deal with the combat side and a one-shot "you're persuaded" or "you're not persuaded" mechanic on the other side.

    Except, of course, Dying Earth (by the same designer) and all those narrative mechanics that don't have this problem at all (such as octaNe - coming soon at SteveCon V!)

    I think that in HQ, the APs are calculated on the basis on the attacker's choice of contest. So if someone tries to stick you with their sword, you have to use some physical ability for your APs, even though you might attack them with your Persuasion skill later.

    In effect, the contest goes:
    1. Their Sword v. Your Dodge (APs calculated on this basis)
    2. Your Persuade v. Their Hatred of You (with APs carried over)
    3. Their Sword v. Your Dodge (with APs carried over)

    Of course in such a circumstance, it's not easy to work out what their "Hatred of You" skill is. They could spend an HP to get a new skill at 13 but you'd expect some situational modifiers.

    Also only combat seems to have armour and edges whereas I think this idea should be extended to all contests.



    Also only combat seems to have armour and edges whereas I think this idea should be extended to all contests.[/quote]

    My understanding of HQ seems to be that appropriate equipment will add a bonus for the contest.  So having a medical kit of some kind will give a bonus to a characters first aid skill and so forth.

    At least that is how I would play it.


    Mike Holmes

    I agree, Simon, that each side should be allowed to declare their intent. But I also agree that the person who starts the Conflcit should have some additional weight on what sort of Conflict it's to be. Such that, under the right circumstances, an Improv Penalty would apply (per Mike above).

    For example, consider a duel. The player who is challenged and accepts the duel may say that his final goal is to riducule the opponent into leaving in disgrace. But he's still fighting a duel. So I'd drop his APs a bit to reflect that.

    The effect this has is to make it so that players always want to declare conflicts suitable to their characters when they can, before they get outmaneuvered into an arena that they're inferior in. Which is fine by me. :-)

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    I noted that a lot of players look at the APs as a bland resolution mechanic, with the details of declared intent ("As part of my goal of killing the Broo, I swing my huge axe down on his ugly head -- 30 AP bid") and resolved conflict ("You roll a critical -- Oh man, proverbial ripe mellon!") being little more than color.

    But every declared action, and its resolution through a round of extended contests, is one more brick in the gradual building up of a scene.  Some HeroQuest critics don't seem to notice that this gradual build-up of the situation produces as solid a game world as one where every detail of the scene (the dismemberment of a character, the knockback over the parapet) is decided by combat rules and tables and sub-tables of tables and sub-rules of rules.

    Every move you declare will be subjected to the resolution mechanic and thereby generate irreversible results.  Perhaps its the majority of RPGs that have treated narrative description of intentions as so much Color -- or hot air, to be less generous.


    Quote from: Mike Holmes
    For example, consider a duel. The player who is challenged and accepts the duel may say that his final goal is to riducule the opponent into leaving in disgrace. But he's still fighting a duel. So I'd drop his APs a bit to reflect that.

    Let's reverse that situation. Suppose we are in a formal debate and you cleverly insinuate somethign about my mother. If I draw a knife and lunge at you, should I suffer an AP penaly because using a knife isn't appropriate to debating?

    To my mind, I'm simply shifting my stated intent and the ability I am using, but the currenmt AP situation should remain unchanged untill I actively change it using the nromal AP-bet-and-roll rules. Perhaps your clever jiobe cost me a bunck of APs, so now I'm realy upset and not thinking clearly, which means I'm not in great shape to attack you. To me that's a prefectly fair interpretation of my reduced AP total, and why it shoud stay reduced despite the fact that I've changed goals and tactics.

    Simon Hibbs
    Simon Hibbs

    Ron Edwards

    Hi there,

    It's all about conflicts, not tasks.

    I agree with Simon. In his example, the conflict is not the debate. The debate is the starting venue for the conflict: the topic of the debate, whatever it might be. Switching the venue to the knife is part of that same conflict.

    I'm reminded of one of the few really good dramatic scenes in Star Trek: the Next Generation, when a debate in the Klingon council becomes a knife fight.

    Details of outcomes in both the short and the long term will definitely be affected by the switch, though. In the Klingon situation, the debate was actually solved by the fight; in other contexts, the fight might decide the conflict in the short term by eliminating the proponent of one side, but other ramifications of pulling a knife in court would then have to be dealt with.

    Examining conflicts which shift and go back-and-forth in stories yields the same observations every time. Hero Quest is one of the first role-playing games to adopt and embrace these observations rather than simulate the details and simply hope (or covertly force) that the pattern somehow emerges.

    Other games to check out in this regard include The Pool, my comments in Sorcerer & Sword, InSpectres, Dust Devils, Universalis, Legends of Alyria, and The Dying Earth.



    Actually, one thing that I really dislike in HeroWars/Quest is the fact that initial APs are determined by "skill" level to begin with.  There should be some other method to determine how many APs are at stake.  That way the only impact "skill" has is on the actual die rolls, at which point it becomes child's play to change from one "Skill" to another in the middle of a conflict.

    Hero Quest goes so far to suggest (as a feature of skill full players) starting a conflict with a strong ability in order to pump the APs even if the intention is to switch to a weaker one later.  I actually find this to be colossally gamey, barely justifiable, and was actually somewhat abhorred that they actually were recommending this as a good thing.

    Ron Edwards

    Hi Ralph,

    I dunno, man. Your point is good on the face of it, but after 14 months of dedicated Hero Wars play (using the same system as now found in Hero Quest), I can't say any negative effect could be observed.


    Mike Holmes

    But Ralph's point is exactly why I think that the overall Conflict is decided with a certain cast. That is, in my example of a duel, the goal would be something like "Be first to wound the opponent", as such, no doubt clever jibes and such could be used to fun effect. But in the end, the jibes can't cause the actual wound, only the sword can.

    My point is that it's more fun to have this parameter than not to have it.

    Sure, we could just start all opponents out with 50 AP, and then say that the victor just gets to choose what it was all about all along. But that's a simpler, and, to me, less appealing, system. Why not allow the agressor to choose the arena of the conflict. It seems to match real life, and I find it dramatic as well. Maneuvering for arena becomes an interesting secondary realm of exploration.

    By saying that the player who initiates gets a small advantage, you gain so much as I see it. My example confict becomes subtly different than the one Simon proposes. And it eliminates that Gaminess that Ralph mentions. That is, if the conflict is a debate, and you draw your sword to make your point, the GM can rule that there's an Improv Penalty for doing so. It doesn't eliminate the option, but it leaves the matter of balance in the GM's hands. So the player is incentivized to pick the Ability that makes the most sense to an extent. At least enough so that he won't go all Gamey, but will instead consider what's most interesting and appropriate. He can't be sure that his best ability will be best in this Conflict, so he'll choose the one that's most appropriate.

    Now, would I consider the dagger drawn in the middle of the debate to be less effective? Well, it would very much depend on the characters in question and the situation. Which is why Improv penalities are left in the hands of the GM. If you see it as just as effective, or even more effective, you can in fact give a bonus. If I think that the gallery will boo, and that will put you off, I'll give a big Improv penalty.

    It's just a normal application of the situational penalties and bonuses rules. And I think that it's an advantageous way to look at the system. If all conflicts are the same, and the means don't matter in relation to the context of the conflict, then I think you lose an element that's really interesting.

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    Yep, you're right. You convinced me. When Alexander was faced with the Gordian Knot and drew his sword instead of trying to puzzle it out, the GM should have improv penaltied his ass into oblivion.

    Sorry, but I relay don't see any actual justification for why characetrs should be penalised for doing things they very obviously could do. Many of the most dramatic moments in fiction have occured because one of the characters made a choice that totaly changed the nature of the contest. This is a GOOD THING and should be encouraged, not penalised.

    Simon Hibbs
    Simon Hibbs